Heavy fog lifted an hour before Saturday’s California Bowl, but Fresno State kept Bowling Green in a fog throughout the afternoon.
The Bulldogs forced Bowling Green into eight turnovers as they won easily, 51-7, before 32,554 fans at Bulldog Stadium.
“The last two times we played Fresno State, the turnover margin was 12-1 in our favor,” said Denny Stolz, Bowling Green coach. “I think we evened it up today.”
Not quite. Fresno State (11-0-1) committed two turnovers Saturday, so Bowling Green (11-1) is still plus-five in its last three games with the Bulldogs.
Bowling Green’s biggest turnover may have occurred earlier in the week when Stolz announced he would be taking the San Diego State coaching job. Though Stolz would not use his departure as an excuse, Falcon assistant coaches were certainly alluding to it as they went to the locker room afterward.
On the field, Fresno State’s defense caused the biggest distraction. The Bulldogs blitzed frequently, keeping the pressure on quarterback Brian McClure.
“Nobody had blitzed them like we did,” Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney said. “Where they play, people don’t reroute receivers like we do. We made them throw to their second and third receivers.”
The game was billed as a battle of quarterbacks. McClure is second all-time in NCAA passing yardage, and Kevin Sweeney of Fresno State is ninth with one season of eligibility remaining.
McClure completed 22 of 42 passes for 254 yards with 3 interceptions. Sweeney, son of the Fresno State coach, completed 9 of 19 passes for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception.
However, Fresno State’s defense was the dominant factor.
“We had some things happen that we were not used to,” McClure said. “We fumbled the ball in their end zone, and I fumbled when I got sacked. Somebody upstairs said that it was not meant for us to win.”
Fresno State’s rout started on a 10-yard run by James Williams 5:31 into the game.
Bowling Green drove 74 yards on its next possession, but Bernard White, the nation’s leading scorer, lost a fumble in the end zone when the Falcons were at Fresno State’s 2.
McClure committed the Falcons’ second turnover when he fumbled at the Bowling Green 12. Anthony Mosley scored on a one-yard run five plays later, giving Fresno State a 14-0 lead.
On Bowling Green’s next possession, George Schmelzle fumbled after a pass reception at the Falcon 33.
Fresno scored on the next play, Sweeney hitting Gene Taylor for the touchdown. Taylor caught the ball at the 13 and faked out several defenders on his way to the end zone.
Fresno State’s defense broke into the scoring column when Cliff Hannemann sacked McClure in the end zone with 4:29 remaining in the half, giving the Bulldogs a 23-0 lead.
Shortly after halftime, McClure threw a pass that was batted in the air several times before Rod Webster intercepted and returned the ball 29 yards to Bowling Green’s 44.
“I saw one of our defensive linemen bat it,” Webster said. “I saw another defensive lineman bat it, then an offensive lineman batted it. McClure grabbed it, then one of our guys pulled it away from him. That’s when I got it. That was typical of the whole game for us.”
On Fresno State’s ensuing possession, another tip went its way. Sweeney’s pass was batted in the air downfield by defender Erik Johnson, only to fall into the arms of Taylor for a 53-yard touchdown.
The Bulldog lead became 37-0 when Kelly Skipper scored on a 29-yard run with 3:07 left in the third quarter. The touchdown drive was started after McClure’s third interception.
Bowling Green received the belated break it sought when Vince Villanucci recovered a Sweeney fumble at Fresno State’s 39. The Falcons drove to their only touchdown on an 18-yard run by Jeff Davis with 14:29 remaining.
Fresno State ran up the score with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. One came on a 40-yard pass shortly after the Bulldogs had passed on fourth down.
Fresno State had beaten Bowling Green three years ago in the California Bowl, 29-28.
“You have to laugh about this one,” McClure said. “If it had been 29-28 again, that would’ve hurt.”